tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS January 16, 2011 8:30am-9:00am PST
>> hinojosa: he's performed with mario bauza, dizzy gillespie, and tito puente, and is one of the most celebrated percussionists in latin jazz today-- musician, conductor, and composer bobby sanabria. i'm maria hinijosa. this is one on one. bobby sanabria, i just want to read the first line from your official bio. it says you are a percussionist, drummer, composer, arranger, bandleader, recording artist, producer, filmmaker, conductor, educator, multicultural warrior, and of course, multiple grammy nominee. and all of that produced in the
south bronx. >> that's right. as we would say in the south bronx, all that and a bag of chips. >> hinojosa: so a lot of people, when they think of the south bronx, 1960s, '70s, when you were growing up... >> right, right, right. >> hinojosa: ...their image is of a place that was entirely desolate, that was, you know, in destruction. >> right, right. >> hinojosa: but for you, it was a totally different reality. >> well, there was that element to it. but i always say that i was very fortunate to have grown up in that time period, because the culture, as far as latino and african american culture, particularly afro puerto rican, afro cuban culture, and obviously african american culture, were in full force in the streets, particularly in the summertime, because we had rumbas in the park all the time. that's when you'd hear people playing drums, conga drums, and playing this beautiful rhythm. >> hinojosa: now, i'm going to stop you right there, because i bet some people are saying, "they had what in the park?" rumbas. >> right, rumbas.
>> hinojosa: okay, so we're going to assume that there's a lot of people who are watching us who don't know a lot of these terms. so a rumba is what? >> a rumba is like a street party. in cuba it would be done... it really started with the dockworkers in los moyes, in the docks, et cetera. and it's the music of the streets. it's drums, vocals, and dance. so you'd hear in the park, (imitates drumming) (vocalizing) >> hinojosa: and that's the stuff that, okay, you were saying was happening in cuba, but this is now happening in the streets of the south bronx. >> right, right. and this is what the puerto rican community... we inherited afro cuban music through our forefathers, et cetera, from the mambo era, et cetera, et cetera. and they... as we say in spanish, tambor llama, "the drum calls."
so imagine listening to that in the projects. i grew up in the melrose projects, 681. in the canyons of the projects you're hearing that not only during the day, but at 3:00 in the morning in the basketball courts, et cetera. and instead of... what i tell people is the difference between our community and, say, somebody living in the suburbs, is in the suburbs, somebody would start calling 911, the cops, say, "hey, there's these people drumming," et cetera. but at 3:00 in the morning in our neighborhoods, people would be going, "yeah, keep it going." >> hinojosa: "don't stop." >> yeah, yeah. and so (speaking spanish) >> hinojosa: so for you... but this notion of kind of living with music all around you, you... i love the story of your dad, who was a machinist. >> right. >> hinojosa: again, puerto rican. and he would come home from work, and he would sit and listen to music in order to relax from his hard day of work. >> right, because he worked in long island, so it would take him two hours to get there and two hours to get back. so my mother would tell me, "your father's going to sit in
that la-z-boy chair he bought, he's going to smoke a cigar, drink some schaffer beer, and listen to music. and don't bother him." so i would listen to what he would listen to. and that would be everything from harry belafonte live at carnegie hall to machito and his afro cubans to tito puente, jibaro music from the folk traditions in puerto rico to, you know, jazz, brazilian music. i remember when he played something by sergio mendes and brazil '66, mas que nada. i go, "hey, pop, that sounds like spanish, but it isn't." and he said, "no, because it's portuguese." you know, that's what they speak in brazil. so he's giving me a little social studies lesson at the same time. >> hinojosa: so you said another word that i bet some people stopped for a second. you said jibaro music. so what is jibaro music? >> jibaro music is the music of the countryside, the mountain people from the island of puerto rico, the obreros, the workers,
the farmers, et cetera. >> hinojosa: and what would, like, jibaro music sound like? >> well, it's very guitar oriented, very string oriented. we have a mandolin type of instrument in puerto rico known as the cuatro that has ten strings. and, of course, anybody that knows spanish, it's ten double string so people would go, "well, how come they don't call it the cinqo if it's five sets of double strings?" used to be four sets of double strings, but in 1952, an instrument maker in puerto rico added an extra set. but we puerto ricanos, sometimes we're conservative, so we kept the name the cuatro. so it's very soulful music, very soulful music that has deep ties to southern spain, but also our rhythm is also from west africa. so... and in the jibaro music, the country people, the mountainside people, the farmers, express their love for the country, for each other. they talk about farming, they talk about religion, they talk
about what's happening in the neighborhood, et cetera. it's very, very soulful music. >> hinojosa: there's something that they do in the jibaro music, (speaking spanish) is that it? >> right, that comes from... >> hinojosa: just sing a little bit. i know that you're not... you know, you do many things, but you also sing. it's not your... but just so that people, when they hear it, they'll be like, "oh." >> well, you'd hear, like, what we could... some of the... one of the typical rhythms we use is whate call a caballo, which sounds like a horse gaiting. so you hear, (imitates drums) (singing in spanish) so you hear, like, kind of like the little miasma in the voice. >> hinojosa: a little bit like from spain. >> yeah, but we inherited that kind of note bending, et cetera, and very soulful interpretation in the voice, from the middle east. >> hinojosa: oh. >> from arabic traditions that we inherited through southern spain.
of course, anybody who was paying attention during high school history class knows that the moors and the muslims were in spain for, like, what is it, over 800 years. so that's part and parcel, besides africa, and the lyricism and harmonies that we heard from europe through spain, that's part of our culture. and that's one of my big missions, to make sure that people understand that we are a multidimensional people, we are multicultural. all latinos are. >> hinojosa:ight, so what want to know, bobby, is when you're growing up in the south bronx, horrible things are happening around you. >> right. >> hinojosa: when they decide to build the cross bronx expressway, right? >> right, and the bruckner express way. >> hinojosa: and the bruckner expressway. and you're this kid. i mean, at that point, where... you know, are you paying attention in high school, and are you thinking, "okay, i'm going to become a musician," or are you thinking, "look, there's destruction around me, there's so much heroin, everything's on fire"? what's going on for you? >> well, music basically... and sports.
i found avenues of expression through sports. i was very good in sports, especially track and field. baseball. i had these grand aspirations of becoming the second baseman for the new york yankees. and in the '60s, the teams weren't that good, so that was something that might have been possible. but basically i had several epiphanies when i was very young, and they started coming little by little, little by little. first epiphany was hearing the drumming, as i said, the rumbas in the street. >> hinojosa: and again, you said this thing, "el tambor llama." >> "the drum calls," right. >> hinojosa: "the drum calls." you felt this. >> right. and then when i was 12 years old, tito puente came to my neighborhood with the machito afro cubans, and those two orchestras played in front of my project. they set up a stage, and they played. >> hinojosa: and this was a free concert? it was... >> yeah, yeah. yeah, yeah. >> hinojosa: which is... i mean, kind of... when i was reading about this, it, like, goes back to the importance of having free public art and music, because it
can change someone's life. >> exactly. and that was... my friend marvin, who is no longer alive, unfortunately, may he rest in peace, i went... i lived in apartment 12a, which was the opposite side of the building, so you couldn't see on east 153rd street, where the concert was happening. so he calls me up, i go down to his apartment, 9a, and we're looking out the window. and i go, "hey, man, we've got to go downstairs." and he goes, "no, man, come on." you know, "why don't we stay up here, man? besides that, we could throw spitballs at people and everything." >> i go, "no, no, no, i want to get near the music." so we go down, and by the time we get to the front, tito puente in all his majesty is playing one of his signature songs which he composed in 1955. (singing in spanish) (vocalizing instrumental parts) and you hear the brass, and then when he points to the saxophones, they stand up, and
it was like... it was like hannibal coming in through italy, through sicily, with the elephants. it was amazing. i mean, and it was... >> hinojosa: and you knew then? you said, "okay, music is going to be what i'm going to do"? >> well, yeah. that was one one of... that, and then i was very fortunate also, because during that time period, jazz was still very much a part of the psyche of mainstream america, because it was in all the cartoons, johnny quest, top cat, courageous cat... >> hinojosa: pink panther. >> all these... yeah, right. you can go down the list. all of the variety shows had orchestras playing jazz in one way or another. the tv shows, mchale's navy, et cetera. >> hinojosa: god, everybody's going to go back, and they're going to start listening to these shows. you end up coming to boston to the berklee school of music. >> right, right. >> hinojosa: but what... >> and i was the first... i was the first puerto rican from new york there. when i was there, nobody... i remember my freshman year, my roommate, who at the time was
david carmona, who told me about the school. we were at... both students at cardinal hayes high school, and he had told me about the school. that's how i found out about it. he was from costa rica, so both of us decided we were going to audition together, and he was a trumpet player, and he became my roommate. so we were both there at the school, but i'm looking for other latinos. and all i found was a few brazilians, you know, three or four, no puerto ricans at all, whether nuyoricans or puerto ricans from the island. they started coming little by little after i was there. >> hinojosa: and now, actually, berklee school of music, you were saying that they have a strong presence. >> the latino population is the highest population at the school. >> hinojosa: at the berklee school of music. >> at the school. amazing, right? >> hinojosa: so at one point... so you have an amazing career, bobby, and you and i met each other many, many, many years ago when i was just a kid at wkcr. >> we were both kids. >> hinojosa: when we were both kids at wkcr radio. and we... even at that station we liked to bring in musicians
like you. >> right, right. >> hinojosa: at that point, i have this great memory where you guys were doing a jam, we were putting it on live on wkcr, and, i mean, i was a mexican kid who had come from chicago. there i was in new york. you guys were jamming, and you handed me a percussive instrument, and you said, "play it." and i was like, "i don't know how to do this." and you said, "play it." it's like... and then... >> i gave you a... it's called a ganza, brazilan shaker, yeah. >> hinojosa: but the point of it is is that to me it was like, at that moment, you wanted to inspire me, and in everyone's sense, really, the sense that we all carry rhythm within us. we all carry, in fact, african rhythms. >> sure, sure. 99% of what we do in all of latin music has some tie to africa. and that's something that should be applauded. it should be exuded. and for our youth, especially today, who... many of them lack direction, because they don't
know who they are. the one thing i always emphasize, especially latino youth who are from caribbean roots, like puerto rico, like the dominican republic, like puerto rico... >> hinojosa: like cuba. >> like cuba, like colombia, et cetera, like venezuela, is that we are multicultural. people tend to be... latinos amongst themselves, we have these innate predjudices that we've inherited sometimes from our parents, our grandparents, and because of our colonial history. we say, "well..." (speaking spanish) "i'm from the mother country, spain." i say, "but spain is a multicultural society, too. it was ruled by the muslims for over 800 years. africa lives in spain, too." >> hinojosa: but a lot of times people will hear... you've heard it before. you've heard people say, "oh, salsa music, it's just, you
know, noise, it's simple, it's..." and in fact, afro cuban music, you know, which became salsa, at least in new york, it's incredibly complex. >> sure, sure, sure. i mean, people that say things like that, what they are telling me right away is they don't know anything about the music. and it says more about them than anything else. they're either closed-minded, they have some fear of the culture, the music, or of the people. >> hinojosa: but explain how complex it is. and you now do latin jazz big band. explain, kind of, what it is to have all of these different instruments coming in at the same time, different rhythms, too. >> right, right. well, the reason the music is so exciting in and of itself is because of this rhythmic heritage that we inherited from west and central africa. and at the crux of it, at the core of it, is a rhythm that we call clave, which is the keystone of the music. and i could... discussing clave,
i could be here for hours discussing it. but it's very, very simple in its essence. it's almost like the simple equation that einstein used, e equals... >> hinojosa: who, by the way, is one of your heroes. >> yeah, yeah. e equals mc squared. in this simple equation he explains how energy and mass, et cetera, and all that is all interrelated. well, it's the same thing with clave. it's five attacks. and from this (plays 3-2 clave pattern) we get all of the rhythms that we utilize today in afro cuban music, in funk, in rock and... >> hinojosa: one-two-three, two-three. (imitates clave) >> you could explain it. >> hinojosa: i don't know. i just... >> but you could explain it this way. but what i tend to show... what i try to show people, what i do show people, is how this is prevalent in everything that we do. it could be a song by tito puente. (singing in spanish)
or it could be a song from new orleans. ♪ i said feet won't fail me now ♪ my feet won't fail me now, yeah ♪ my feet won't fail me now ♪ my feet won't fail me now, yeah ♪ get, get, get get busy ♪ get, get, get get busy ♪ get, get, get get... ♪ it's all interrelated. it's part of the african diaspora in this so-called new world. >> hinojosa: why is it so important for you, bobby... i mean you've had amazing success, grammy nominations, professor of music. it is about teaching and handing this down for you. that's an essential part of it. >> sure, because it represents us. it represents... it's our ethos, it's our being. and what i tell young people is... and this is a common cliche, but it's very profound. once you know who you are and where you came from, nobody
really can mess with you. i mean, and cultural pride has always been at the source of our being as latinos, and also our music. a good friend of mine, colleague, one of the first djs in the hip hop world, he talks about cultural medicine. people are always looking for medicine. and for us, in our communities, whether they're african american, latino, or even anglo american, music is our medicine. and our music is so deep and rich in its ties to the past that we should celebrate that and not lose it. and that's... >> hinojosa: so your doctors... okay, if music is our medicine, your doctors would be mongo santamaria, mario bauza, tito puente... >> all of those people. >> hinojosa: ...machito... >> carlos san... >> hinojosa: ...dizzy gillespie...
>> carlos santana. all of these people to me are priests. >> hinojosa: wel what was it like when you were... because many people have said that the legacy of tito puente is sitting on your shoulders now. that's amazing, right? but what was it like to be playing with someone like tito? >> well, i worked with tito many times. in fact, he's on my first album, new york city ache!, which has become sort of a... >> hinojosa: which, by the way, is my all-time favorite. >> great, great. that has kind of achieved, like, cult status with a lot of people. we did a series of duets, me on the drum set and maestro puente on the timbales, something that he never did, ever, with another percussionist. but tito to me was like somebody... you could describe him almost as a marvel comic superhero. i mean, it was superhuman, the things that he did. first of all, he studied dance when he was a kid, so he was an accomplished dancer. then he became a pianist. he studied piano for eight years. then he gets in... his heroes are james cagney and gene krupa.
then he serves his country with honor in the navy for three years, and he's in the battle of midway, the battle of guadalcanal. >> hinojosa: so my immediate questions, h come there isn't a biopic on tito puente, and how come... i mean, one of your concerns is that you said, "when i find out that there are kids who have never heard of tito puente," your heart breaks a little bit. >> well, it's not only that. kids don't know who duke ellington is, john coltrane. some kids now today don't even know who carlos santana is. >> hinojosa: although he did play on american idol. that's a very big deal. so probably a lot of people know him now. >> that's all well and good, but i don't think... what kids need today to do, and it's very easily accessible, especially with the technology we have today, all these people that you just mentioned, they can look them up on youtube and readily see them right away. like, when i do concerts all the time, whether with my own groups or with the groups that... the two orchestras that i teach at
the new school university and at the manhattan school of music... >> hinojosa: in new york. >> they come up and say, "mr. sanabria, i never heard this music before. my mother and father told me about it, but i never paid any attention. man, this is bad. this is amazing. where can i hear more of this?" >> i says, "man, start looking up machito, tito puente, santana, duke ellington, john coltrane, bobby sanabria, start looking up on youtube, and you can see them right there in all their majesty. >> hinojosa: what you do is that you took your strong, you know, latin basis, and you moved into latin jazz. so what is the state of latin jazz right now? is it good? >> well, the state of the music is very, very good. in fact, latin jazz, when you mention that term, would always refer to afro cuban based music done with jazz harmony and arranging technique and improvisation. but now it's expanded, and i think that we were at the focal point of that with my nonet, with that new york city ache! album where we started doing
rhythms outside of... besides cuban rhythms, but other rhythms outside of that spectrum, like venezuelan rhythms, like cumbia from colombia. we even did some plenas on there from puerto rico. so all of these young people that are fervently studying jazz now from colombia, from venezuela, from other countries in latin america, are bringing their folklore into the realm of jazz. and you're going to seeing and hearing more of that. and i think... >> hinojosa: but really, bobby? becuase, you know, how many... you know, i travel around the country, and for me jazz is my... again, kind of stemming from my experience at wkcr radio and meeting someone like you when i was an impressionable 18-year-old, jazz is a part of my life. it's what's on my radio 24-7. >> right, right, right. >> hinojosa: my kids are hearing it. but it's not easy to find jazz on the radio across this country. >> well, that's why people like myself have been very vocal in terms of... i myself believe that we should have
congressional hearings on jazz and how to make it part of the curriculum of every public school kid in the united states. once you get to the fifth grade and you get into social studies and all of a sudden you talk about the louisiana purchase, how come america's greatest art form, and what best represents us as a multicultural society, and what best represents the ethos of america, freedom within a democratic society for the individual, musically and culturally, how come that's not being taught in the public schools? doesn't mean that everybody is going to become a jazz tenor player or anything, no. but part of the history of this country, it's part of the curriculum. so i'm very vocal about that, and also we need to have more radio stations playing the music. >> hinojosa: but your definition of jazz is one that i really like. and i think you had said it's freedom, revolutionary, and... >> oh, i always say that jazz has three elements to it-- freedom, truth, and revolution.
without any of those elements, you don't really have jazz. now, a lot of those elements are found in a lot of other forms of music that are rooted in jazz, like rock, r&b, et cetera. but no other art form exudes those three elements more than jazz. >> hinojosa: so will we get those congressional hearings? do you have an inside line into the administration? what are you doing to... >> well, hopefully if they watch this show. i've been talking about this for the last few years. some people, when i start talking about it, they start laughing. and then they start realizing that i'm serious. and i go, "if we can have congressional hearings on how much a toilet seat costs for the shuttle, we can have congressional hearings on this art form that so many people from all over the world who maybe don't like the politics of this country, or even what this country represents, but when it
gets to the word jazz, no matter how much they may dislike this country, as soon as you say jazz, they start going 'oh, yes, yes, that music.'" >> hinojosa: you mean when you travel around the world? >> yeah, yeah. when we... the common ground has always been, "we love jazz." >> hinojosa: all right, so bobby, just to finish up here, so there's a young person who's watching this show who thinks maybe they like music, not sure. what should they do? >> hinojosa: well, first of all, if they have a passion for music like i started developing a passion for it, they should seek it out, and also get musical instruction. and i'm not just talking about music. if they have a passion for art, for science, for history... i have a passion for all of those things, and i get to express them all in the world of music, especially in the jazz work that i do. but a teacher will always get you to where you want to go ten
times faster than just you being by yourself. >> hinojosa: so the great words of bobby sanabria-- go out, study, learn. and thank you, bobby, for sharing all of your music and all of your lessons with us. we appreciate it. >> thanks for having me. and just to reiterate the thing about education, it worked for tito puente, who went to the julliard school of music on the gi bill when he got out of world war ii for three years from 1945 to 1948. it worked for me. i'm a proud graduate of the berklee college of music, class of 1979. and it'll work for them also. >> hinojosa: thank you, bobby. >> thank you, maria. continue the conversation at wgbh.org/oneonone. captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org